California Budget Crisis: Solve It Yourself

Next10

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In recent months, several media outlets and nonprofits have launched online budgeting tools that put us lay folk up to the task of balancing the government’s checkbook.

In November, the New York Times introduced its “You Fix the Budget” tool, a simulator that lets online readers tackle the federal budget. MinnPost, the Los Angeles Times, and Cleveland’s Plain Dealer have launched similar initiatives for state budgeting, sending users a-hacking at expenditures and upping taxes via checkboxes and sliding cursors. (If only making fiscal policy was actually this straightforward.)

Yesterday, Next10—a California nonprofit—unveiled the revised version of its own budget simulator. While the organization has hosted the online tool for the past seven years, revising it annually to reflect the state’s current legislature proposals, this year’s scorched-earth budget battle makes it especially timely. With K-12 and higher education, health care, and a wide range of social programs on the line, concerned voters can pick and choose through a variety of options toward a balanced budget. Check it out. Nifty, no?

Next10 officially revealed its updated version at a San Francisco budget forum Thursday. There, participants learned about the different proposals the legislature is considering—and took part in a live run using hand-held clickers to vote, multiple-choice style, on the proposals.

The online tool works similarly. Users have to consider spending across many realms—from schools and health-care plans to California’s troubled prison system. Each policy problem offers a handful of potential solutions which, conveniently, they can learn about before voting—because next to each question, there’s a sidebar with background on that policy initiative.

Next10 is nonpartisan, and its budget simulator reflects this. Beyond the background data, every potential policy move contains a built-in list of pros and cons, based on arguments that have been made for or against. Just mouse over each item and voilà—up pops a green bubble, where some tough and time-consuming reasoning has already been done for you.

All in all, it’s a pretty cool—and heartily diplomatic—widget. Given the dubious online practices of some folks in government, such a positive use of political technology is certainly refreshing.

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TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

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